Many people experience feeling paralysed while they are partially awake but dreaming. This may be due to the fact that voluntary movements are inhibited during periods of the dream process. All brain signals to the voluntary muscles are stopped. Therefore if we become slightly awake and attempt to move at that time we feel paralysed. This is not sensed as a problem if we are unconsciously involved in a dream. While dreaming another level of will takes control of the body, so any sounds or movements made are not from ones conscious will.
If enough self awareness arises in the dream state, then awareness of the inability to move may occur, along with the anxiety this can arouse. In fact this is probably only a problem to people who are frightened of the paralysis, as for most people, active dreams manage to break through the inhibition enough to cause mild movements and vocal sounds.
Another factor is illustrated by what Susan says in the example below – the harder she tries to move the worse it gets. Our unconscious is very open to suggestion. If this were not so we would lack necessary survival responses. In a dimly lit situation we may mistake a shape for a lurking figure. Our body reactions such as heartbeat, react to the mistake as if it is real until we gain fresh information. Whatever we feel to be real becomes a fact as far as our body reactions are concerned. The fear that one cannot move becomes a fact because we believe it. When Susan relaxes, and thereby drops the fear of paralysis, she can be free of it. This applies to anything we feel is true – we create it as an internal reality.
‘It starts as a dream, but I gradually become aware that I cannot move. The harder I try to move the worse it gets and I become very frightened. I can neither move nor wake myself up. Sometimes I feel as if I am leaving my body. But to deal with the fear I have learned – its a recurring thing – to stop struggling, knowing that I will eventually wake.’ Susan Y.
The excellent description in the following example was given by Roy Herbert. It was taken from a feature he wrote. Unfortunately the news-cutting did not have either the name of the paper or the date with it.
‘In this condition, I can hear what others are saying to make me come to. The bed-room is the one I am in though sometimes altered in layout and the real persons in it may be joined by dream ones. I can speak and even offer suggestions on how to bring me awake, such as cold water on my head, though I am told that the words are not intelligible. I am aware that my mouth is dry. My brain is working on some levels that are far from asleep. I have been able to censor swear words from anguished advice I am offering the rousers for fear of offending them, though I am not awake.
The worst thing of all is that I have almost no power in my limbs while the struggle is going on. The prospect of sinking back into deep sleep, unable to move, is terrifying – so dreadful that I finally burst fully awake with the sensation of shooting up through water into the air.
I don’t think that I can be unique in floating halfway, half awake and half asleep, paralysed but speaking and thinking in a half real world. It might be interesting to hear from other sufferers.
Other strange phenomena occurring either during or on the edge of sleep probably have similar causes, or are linked in some way. Roy Herbert’s description vividly portrays the experience of being locked half way between the ‘waking’ world and the ‘dream’ world, and perhaps that is part of the fear experienced. But the threshold of waking that Roy is trying to approach need not be the one that leads to a loss of the dream state. What I mean is that Roy’s dream imagery stops when he wakes. For many people their dream imagery persists when they wake, and they have to travel further into waking than Roy does to lose the sense of having no control, or of being invaded by experiences from ‘outside’ themselves. See: Reaction to the unconscious; hallucinations andhallucinogens
Much of the problems felt by people in these states arises from their relationship to what is being experienced. Many people actually seek the state Roy describes through self-hypnosis. In my teens I studied and practised a mixture of relaxation techniques and self-hypnosis in an attempt to explore what Tate later called altered states of consciousness (ASC). After a few months practice I found I could enter a condition where I had no sense of a body, and felt myself to be awake in the depths of sleep. As I had consciously sought this there was no fear attached to it, and I could rouse myself easily. See Answer to Critics
However, the terror Roy and other people speak of in regard to the paralysis, I have experienced myself, and witnessed in other people, who felt themselves powerless against a spontaneous eruption of emotions or urges from the unconscious.
If we can understand that we have two levels of will, the conscious will that enables us to move around and make decisions while awake, and the Life will that takes over when we dream, creating full surround environments and events, and paralyses our conscious will to some extent. The Life will that we confront in dreams and sleep paralysis is what directs all the functions of our body and mind. It is far more important than our conscious self, and actually needs to take over more fully sometimes to regulate, grow and harmonise our being. When the unconscious will pushes through to waking awareness we experience it as what have been called hallucinations, a voice speaking to us, spontaneous movements or speech, as happens in dreams. For may people who experience sleep paralysis they feel a terror that either some outside force has or is taking control of them; or else they fear they are dying. The images we see if this state are actually created by these fears and are not external beings trying to control us. It is our fear of this great Life Will that causes it. It is strange indeed that we are terrified of our own life process. See Edgar Cayce
If that can be fully digested you can begin to work with and actually gain benefits from what is really an extension of your mental processes and possibilities.
If you have this ability and do not suffer fear, then you have a wonderful talent that could transform your life. Sleep is a huge country that many of us have never explored, and that is why so many people are terrified when they wake up in the very different world of sleep. When we sleep a huge process is at work, the process of life that in fact keeps us alive. That is going on under the surface all the time, but when you wake up in sleep it can feel like an alien force is attacking us – us being our conscious personality. We are so out of touch with life within us that we react to it as if it is an enemy.
Something else we have to realise is that we are also dreaming; so any impressions and information we meet is presented is images and drama. Because dreams mirror what we feel and fear it can be shown as an attack. In other words your fear creates the fearful dream images.
While your voluntary muscles as paralysed another process takes over – your unconscious or inner self – and so it tries to move you apparently against your will. If you stopped fighting it, it would make very sensible movements that are a way of moving you toward healing.
We usually think that being awake is the ‘everything’ of life. But if you think about it, it is only a small part of who you are. Every time you go to sleep you swing to the opposite pole of your awareness. You go to the depth of who you are; the very Source of your existence. Of course it is a very different level of being than waking awareness. And to get there you go through levels of existence – and your sleep paralysis is one of the early ones. But most people lose self awareness when they go to sleep, but there are some who can maintain awareness right the way through to the Source. It is an extraordinary experience.
The Levels of Sleep
The first level of sleep we meet is dreaming. That is if we are even a little bit aware. If we begin too explore this level, the apparently black depths of sleep begin to reveal an amazing life and energy. Light is taken into the darkness.
If we persist in exploring our dreams there comes point where yo8u break thorough the images of dreams into direct insight. An example of this is as fllows:
In fact the awakening interrupted a dream, which was extremely lucid and logical. I knew clearly, during it, what it meant. I was simply watching leaves, like a fern, grow and expand. As I did so I realised this was an expression of something taking place in my being. Namely, the vegetative (vegetable) forces had been released to greater or more powerful activity. It was very clear in the dream, but I quickly lost much of the accompanying knowledge. But I knew, or experience, that the release was linked with consciousness and will. In some way I cannot yet explain, the power of this process streamed through the will or consciousness, and awareness expanded as the leaf grew. In other words consciousness filled the leaf being grown.
These are only an overview of the process of exploring consciousness, so the next level is to wake up in the lucid state and goo beyond imagery.
I was dreaming and woke up in sleep. I was then aware of being in the level of dream images and wondered what was beyond it. Immediately I was in another level in which I could directly observe the subtle energy workings of my body. I saw that I had a slight infection in my lungs, and observed how it was like watching fluid moving through a plant. It was a healing action. The I also observed how the energy between my trunk and head was blocked slightly in my neck. In trying to understand what the block was I realised it was an attitude I have pf being proud or stiff necked. If it were not dealt with I could see it would lead to a serious illness in my neck.
As can be seen it is this level of insight that can radically change ones life. But there is still more.
I became lucid in my dream and realised that I could move deeper. I was already at the level of seeing into the inner workings of the body so asked the question is there anything else. Suddenly I was plunged into bodiless awareness. I had been here many years previous and so was at ease with it. In the past I had seen that this was the apparent nothingness that is the primal level, and out of it everything flowed. But being curious I asked if there was anything beyond this. I was amazed at what happened next. I was at the same time bodiless, spaceless and timeless existence, and also here and now in everyday waking life. It was like Blake described it, “To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour.”
To quote from the feature What we need to remember about Dreaming:
• In life and sleep we have two powerful actions working in us. The first is our waking experience based on having a body, its limitations, vulnerabilities and a particular gender. Our second is the power that gave us life and continues to express as dreams.
• While we sleep our conscious self is largely or totally unconscious, and while we sleep our voluntary muscles are paralysed – so another will or motivating force moves our body. So we have a Conscious Will, and what I will call a Life Will. The first one we have experience of as we can move our arm or speak; but the second will takes over when we sleep.
• This Life Will can move us to speak, to move our body, and in fact do things that we cannot do with our Conscious Will. As Freud pointed out this inner will has full access to our memories. It can do so many other things that are described else where – See ESP in Dreams; Edgar Cayce. This Life Will or motivator has been active for millions of years and we see it working all the time in animals. We are partly split in half because we are often opposed to what our Life Will in us wants. So the only way to express what is good for us is in dreams when our conscious will is largely passive.
• Life Will created your body and pre-existed you as a person you know today. It was working in you prior to your ability to speak or know in the way you do now. But of course it has fantastic wisdom and skills, as can be seen in animals.
For fuller information about the levels of sleep and the different experiences we meet in each, See Levels of Awareness in Waking and Dreaming. See also: movements during sleep; yoga and dreams; Life’s Little Secrets